The Law is the Law – Or Is It?

The Big Ten, 4 - 10

#4: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." #5: "Honor your father and your mother." #6: "You shall not murder" #7: "You shall not commit adultery." #8: "You shall not steal." #9: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." #10: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s."

Matthew 19:16-26, Jesus says, "Keep the commandments."

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Exodus 20:8-11, 23:12; Leviticus 19:3b, 26:2; Deuteronomy 5:12-15, #4: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (7/18/18)

Few people in modern society work every single day of the year, but in ancient times this was the norm. God knew that we needed a holy day once in a while to think about God – not to mention that we’d work more efficiently if we had a day off. "Sabbath" comes from another Hebrew word, shabat, that means "to rest," "to cease," "or desist from exertion." The Sabbath was designed as a day of rest and a day of holiness. And bear in mind that you can’t game the system by getting your servant to do the work; the servant gets the day off, too!

Mark 2:23-28; Luke 14:1-6, 13:10-17, #4: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (7/19/18)

Jesus agreed totally that the Sabbath was a holy day, and the Gospels frequently record that he was in a synagogue or the Temple on the Sabbath. He disagreed with the Pharisees, however, about what made the Sabbath holy. By the first century, so many stipulations had been added through oral tradition that you couldn’t perform any of a very wide variety of actions on the Sabbath, because one rabbi or another had defined them as work. (Remember that the commandment is that "any work," with no definition.) You couldn’t prepare a meal, even if you were hungry, or light a fire, even if you were cold and wet. You couldn’t perform any healing action, such as changing a bandage. You couldn’t walk more than a short distance, even if your life or that of your child depended on it.

Jesus said, "Wait a minute! The Sabbath was designed to be holy and improve your life, not to make your life a burden! If you Pharisees already do work that benefits an animal, why are you so opposed to doing work that benefits one of God’s sons or daughters?"

Hebrews 4:1-11, 14, #4: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (7/20/18)

The writer of Hebrews, like the Pharisees, took the idea of Sabbath rest and ran with it. He (or she) just ran in a different direction. Whereas the Pharisees were focused on enforced inactivity in the here and now, the writer of Hebrews focused on the ultimate Sabbath rest: our rest in salvation through Jesus Christ. Note, though, that vss. 9-10 expect that we will engage in the ordinary Sabbath-keeping as well.

Recently during a vacation, I was in the common area of the hotel I was staying at on a Saturday. A young man in swim trunks knocked at the back door (which was glass), so I went over and opened the door for him. He thanked me, and I asked if he had forgotten his key. He held up the key and said, "Sabbath." Excellent: here is a young man who isn’t embarrassed to demonstrate his adherence to the doctrine of his faith. He can relax by swimming, but he can’t work by unlocking the door.

Modern Christians and Jews vary widely in their application of the Fourth Commandment. On one end, some interpret it strictly, reserving the Sabbath for worship, study, and refraining from activities other than worship or study. On the other end, people use the day to catch up on errands, party all night, or even treat it as a normal work day. My own opinion is that Jesus calls for some sort of sensible mean: if you normally engage in physical labor, rest by reading a book (the Bible, for example!). If you normally sit at a desk all day, rest by weeding your garden. In either case, make time for worship and fellowship with other believers. And always be willing to do "work" that relieves pain or brings joy to another person.

And P.S.: If your job requires you to work on the Sabbath, choose another day and take it off every week to rest.

Exodus 20:12, 21:15, 21:17; Leviticus 19:3a; Deuteronomy 5:16, #5: "Honor your father and your mother." (7/23/18)

The first four commandments are about your relationship with God; the rest are about your relationships with people. The lead-off commandment in this group is about your parents: "Honor your father and mother, so that your life may be long in the land which the Lord your God is giving you."

Mark 7:9-13; Ephesians 6:1-4, #5: "Honor your father and your mother." (7/24/18)

We saw yesterday that the Law of Moses takes honoring your parents so seriously that failing to honor them carries a death sentence. We saw explanations that "dishonoring" means striking or cursing your parents. Jesus is even more strict: he says that you can "set aside" – that is, reject – the commandment even by devoting your property to God! Take care of your parents, people of God.

Paul (for once) offers us a carrot as well as a stick. He says that you should honor your parents not only because it’s right, but so that you will live long and prosper.

By the way, Leonard Nimoy based "Live long and prosper" and the Vulcan salute on the blessing performed by Jewish priests. Don’t we learn interesting and useful things in this study?

Exodus 20:13; Numbers 35:6, 10-28; Deuteronomy 5:17, #6: "You shall not murder" (7/25/18)

In a college sociology class half a century ago, I learned that every known human society has a law against murder. How societies define "murder" varies. The sixth commandment is "You shall not commit murder." This is very often translated "You shall not kill," but in fact the Law allows some types of killing (e.g., execution) and says some are not murder (e.g., accidents). For example, the Law defines premeditated acts as murder, and they are not allowed, but killing the murderer of your kinsman is allowed (Numbers 35:19-21). Under the Law of Moses, notice that someone who murders or kills by accident can go to one of the safe towns (or "sanctuary cities," six of the towns belonging to the Levites) until the trial. If guilty, the killer is put to death. If it wasn’t really murder, the killer can stay in the safe town until the death of the high priest, thus avoiding the vengeance of the victim’s family.

Now, you may think that letting the victim’s family execute the killer is a little strange, but in fact, this law limits further deaths. The multi-generation vendetta has no place in the Law.

Matthew 5:21-24, #6: "You shall not murder" (7/26/18)

Okay, I can probably get through life without ever killing anybody on purpose. But not getting angry? Not saying, "Fool!"? That’s harder. Jesus, as usual, tells us not only to obey the Law of Moses, but to go beyond the letter to the spirit of the Law.

I never realized before that in saying "in danger of being judged," Jesus is referring to that passage in Numbers that we read yesterday, about fleeing to the safe city and standing trial. I hope you learn as much from these studies as I do.

Mark 10:17-22, Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17; Numbers 35:6, 10-28, #5: "Honor your father and your mother" and "You shall not murder" (7/27/18)

The rich young ruler (see Matthew 19:20, Luke 18:18, and vs. 22) asked Jesus, "What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus’ first answer is to obey the Law; this week we are especially interested in the commandments to honor your parents and not to murder. It appears to me that Jesus, and therefore the New Testament, does indeed teach the Ten Commandments.

The rich young man doesn’t feel that that’s enough, however, and Jesus sees that the man’s wealth is a burden keeping him from the kingdom. Wealth is a similar burden to many people, but Jesus only says here that this particular person needs to sell everything and give it to the poor. All the verbs and pronouns are singular. Don’t believe that this necessarily applies to all wealthy people.

Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18, #7: "You shall not commit adultery." (7/30/18)

I looked at all 31 occurrences of the Hebrew word for "adultery" in the Old Testament. I gather that adultery is a sin that can be committed only by men (with a married woman) or by married women. (My husband says this is what he learned in seminary as well.) Figuratively, the nation of Israel, as God’s bride, could commit adultery against God by worshipping other gods.

Adultery is punishable by death for both parties. (Take a look at John 8:1-11. The woman was "caught in the act," so where is the man? The scribes and Pharisees who brought only the woman to Jesus were themselves breaking the Law, the creeps.)

Prostitution, sex outside of marriage, some incest, and rape are not, strictly speaking, adultery; however, all of these are addressed by assorted other commandments and have various consequences.

Matthew 5:27-32; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16; John 8:33-41, #7: "You shall not commit adultery." (7/31/18)

Jesus apparently reasoned that – as far as your personal relationship with God goes – the intent is as bad as the deed. We have seen that not supporting your parents is as bad as striking or cursing them, and anger is as bad as murder. Thus we are not surprised to learn that lust is as bad as adultery.

In the first century (like our own!), both Jews and Gentiles divorced freely on any pretext. Jesus’ listeners (including his own disciples) were surprised, therefore, that divorce for any reason other than unfaithfulness is as bad as adultery, and remarriage is also adultery. Paul is willing to say that divorce is allowable if a Christian is married to a non-Christian who insists on a divorce.

Scholarly opinion is divided about what Paul means when he says, "In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved." The range is roughly as follows: Our passage from John, and particularly John 8:41, only makes sense if you know that worshiping other gods is adultery against God, as we learned yesterday.

Exodus 20:15; Leviticus 19:11, 35-36; Deuteronomy 5:19, 22:1-4, #8: "You shall not steal." (8/1/18)

The eighth commandment says, "Don’t steal!" Moses elaborates in Deuteronomy that this includes lost property and property that is in danger of being lost.

Ephesians 4:17-32; Romans 2:11-24, #8: "You shall not steal." (8/2/18)

Paul not only said that thieves should stop stealing, he added that they should get a job! Why? So that they would have something to share with anyone who is in need. Then he had a special word for those who taught that other people shouldn’t steal, even though they themselves were stealing. What’s a modern application? If you are fudging on your income tax, stop doing that before you criticize someone else for robbing a bank. We are to be totally new people as followers of Christ, not only encouraging others to keep the ten commandments of the Law, but also to apply them in new and more loving ways.

Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20, 19:15-21, #9: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (8/6/18)

As we have seen, most of the Ten Commandments are not only repeated in the New Testament, but they are a part of Western (and often Eastern) civil law. Perjury was and remains both a sin and a crime. "Not bearing false witness" doesn’t just mean lying, it means lying in a trial, where the accused will be punished if convicted and freed if exonerated. The Law considers it such a serious offense that the liar would receive the punishment intended for his or her target.

Lying is also bad; don’t do that, either.

Acts 4:32-5:11, #9: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." (8/7/18)

We saw earlier that Jesus repeated the commandment not to bear false witness, which is lying under oath, or perjury (Matthew 19:18; Mark 10:19), and extended the commandment to any kind of oath-taking and lying (Matthew 5:33-37). This story from Acts shows that there’s an even more serious sin, and that’s lying to God. The sin, I think, was not so much in holding back some of the money, but in trying to pass off the contribution as the full sale price.

Communal living for all Christians didn’t last very long, but the tradition continued in Catholic monasteries and in a few other groups, such as the Shakers. By the way, one of the great understatements of the Bible is seen in vss. 5:5 and 5:11.

Exodus 20:17-20; Deuteronomy 5:21-27, #10: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s." (8/8/18)

The last of the Ten Commandments is "You shall not covet ... anything that is your neighbor’s." I’m including the end of the story in Exodus and the end of Moses’ description of what had happened previous, now that he is talking to the people near the end of his life. The children of Israel were familiar with a lot of gods in Egypt, but those gods weren’t nearly as powerful and awesome – not to mention scary! – as the God they were now dealing with. They decided to stand back at a safe distance and let Moses deal with God.

Luke 12:13-31, #10: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s." (8/9/18)

People get greedy when it comes to the inheritance. A man asked Jesus to direct the man’s brother to divide the inheritance with him. Jesus asks "What business is that of mine?" and then warns against all sorts of covetousness. First, he says, you don’t even know when your belongings are going to be inherited by your own heirs! Second, money isn’t everything: flowers and birds don’t use money, and they do just fine. But most importantly, you should be paying more attention to the riches of God than to the riches of the world.

James 4:1-10, #10: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s." (8/10/18)

James (my favorite letter writer) gives three instructions: be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Almost the entire book is devoted to these three points. In his discussion of anger, he attributes fights and quarrels – and even murder – to the sin of covetousness.

By the way, when James says, "you ask wrongly," he means that asking for the wrong things is wrong, not that there’s a correct way to ask for the wrong things.

Matthew 19:16-26, Jesus says, "Keep the commandments." (8/3/18)

Isn’t this interesting? When a man (presumably a Jewish man) comes to Jesus and asks what he "must do to have eternal life," Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, specifically, the Ten Commandments! Now, I’m certain that any Christian would answer that question with, "Believe in Jesus and accept him as your savior." Christ didn’t. What are we to make of that?

Two of the commandments Jesus mentions are the two we looked at earlier this week: Don’t commit adultery! Don’t steal!

The disciples are astonished because standard Old Testament theology was that blessed and rich = right with God, and cursed and poor = not right with God. So if the rich aren’t right with God, who is??

More on the Law
Jesus on the Law, Nazirites, Dietary Law
Signs & Symbols, Civil Law, and Mixtures
Times and Seasons
Sacrifices and Offerings, Priests, and Firstborn
The Ten Commandments, 1 - 3
The Ten Commandments, 4 - 10
The Greatest Commandments

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